Amazon's pending purchase of Audible has some publishers wondering how the e-tailer will wield its position in the market, while some of Audible's small shareholders are grumbling about the acquisition price and hoping that Apple might still swoop in with a bid.
The Audible purchase will make Amazon the most important outlet for spoken-word audio, be it in traditional CD or digital formats—which makes publishers a bit uneasy. “It's a smart move by Amazon, but I'm concerned about the power they will have in the marketplace,” said the head of one major trade house about the acquisition. That strength could be further enhanced if Amazon ends up acquiring Recorded Books, as many in the spoken-word audio world expect. Recorded Books was put on the block by parent company Haights Cross earlier this month.
In an interview, Amazon senior v-p for worldwide digital media Steve Kessel said Audible will remain in New Jersey under the direction of founder Don Katz. Kessel said he hopes to work with publishers to add more titles to the Audible system. On the question of DRM, Katz said that DRM “is part of the Audible platform.” However, he added that Audible will work with publishers “to deliver content any way they want.” While some industry members believe spoken-word audio should be available DRM-free, consultant Seth Gershel believes there is no need to rush in the direction that the music industry has taken. “Audiobooks are publishing, and should be copyright protected as such by publishers and retailers,” Gershel said.
Amazon sells its music downloads without DRM and is battling to become more competitive in the music download business that is now dominated by Apple, which puts Audible in a bit of an awkward position, since a major reason for its recent growth has been its exclusive deal as the spoken-word distributor for iTunes. Katz said he anticipated no changes in Audible's contract with Apple, which runs through September 2010.
It is Apple's relationship with Audible that has some small shareholders hoping that the company will try to top Amazon's $11.50-per-share offer. On Audible's message board, several posts noted that while the bid is a premium over where Audible's stock had been trading the day before the acquisition announcement, it is below Audible's price for much of last year's fourth quarter; Audible was selling at a high of $14.16 on November 6. One possible roadblock to a bid is a provision that calls for a $10-million breakup fee if Audible terminates the merger.